Life in Alaska

A Real Alaskan Deere

A Real Alaskan Deere

Written by
Roger Lincoln
Every man needs a money pit

One potential sign of a true Alaskan is the ability to brag about having owned at least one bulldozer. Many Alaskan men have possessed one of these macho beauties, or want to, and some even keep old dead bulldozer hulks around their yards as trophies of past glories. Stuffed moose heads and bearskin rugs inside and bulldozers outside. I am proud to say that I am a true Alaskan man.

The winters of 1977 and 1978 provided heavy snowfalls and high winds. We were drifted in often. I had to use a shovel several times to manually clear drifts to be able to get out to the main road and into Wasilla. Sometimes my neighbor and I worked together to open the road. It was a job. Finally I had enough. I decided the answer to my problem was the traditional Alaska solution ... buy a bulldozer.

Hangar facilities and vehicles in winter.


It was not easy finding a bulldozer within the right price range. I let it be known I was looking and after a while a guy I worked with told me he knew where a 1956 Model 440 was located. I don’t want to name and possibly embarrass the manufacturer, but it did quickly become Deere to my heart. It was equipped with a front end loader and powered by a 2 cylinder GM diesel engine. It looked like just the machine I needed. The price was right too—$2,500 and delivery from Anchorage was included. A church brother who was an expert equipment operator looked at it with me. He pronounced it a good deal. I knew it would take a little work to get it in perfect shape, but I felt up to the job. This should have been my first clue that trouble was ahead.

At last the big day came. My bulldozer arrived. With a little help it wheezed off the truck and down the ramp to the ground. It didn’t look as good as I remembered. About two hours later I received a call from a church friend of mine who worked at the Anchorage Police Department. He knew I was trying to find a bulldozer. By coincidence he was investigating a complaint about a stolen bulldozer at the very moment we were off loading my new prize. On the remote chance that I may have purchased the missing bulldozer, he called me. When I answered, “Yes, it was just delivered” he asked me the serial number. It matched. My Deere was stolen!

The next step was to get my money back from my work “buddy” who sold it to me. He had bought it from a person who skipped the country after stealing the bulldozer. Then I talked to the man who was the rightful owner. It turned out that he wanted to sell it anyway so I gave him the money and got a bill of sale. The bulldozer was now mine. Legally!

It leaked a little diesel around the injectors. When I started the engine, clouds of black smoke rolled over to my good neighbor Bob’s house across the road. No big deal. Another friend and church brother, a professional diesel mechanic, checked it out for me and told me the cylinder head was cracked down the middle. It was a wonder it even started at all he said.  

I took the cylinder head to Anchorage for repair. The mechanics were amazed that the valves didn’t fall down into the cylinders. They showed it to a company representative from Detroit Diesel who took some of the parts back to GM as a souvenir. Finally I got the engine back together for only $400.

Now I was ready to do some work, but it wasn’t steering right. Another church brother helped me put new steering clutches in it. (Aren’t church brothers great?) That cost only about $200. The undercarriage was broken. Wes, another understanding neighbor, welded it for me. In return, he used the loader to do some back-filling around a house he was building. It worked perfectly for him.

Again I was ready to do something with my bulldozer. I started getting rid of some of the brush piles that were causing the snow to drift. The hydraulic hoses blew. I replaced all the hydraulic hoses. That took a few hundred dollars. Then the radiator developed a leak. I repaired that. By now I was losing my enthusiasm. Two church brothers and former owners of similar machines encouraged me. There really isn’t anything else that can go wrong they said. By now nearly everyone I knew was asking me about the machine. I got plenty of advice from amateur mechanics. Unfortunately none of them actually owned a bulldozer.


Hangar facilities at Anchorage.

Finally I was ready to finish pushing the brush piles. The loader quit working every few minutes. It turned out there was a hidden filter in the hydraulic system that was plugged. I cleaned it out. Now it worked and I was able to complete the job.

I used the bulldozer to go down a slope into the woods and pull the logs up to the yard where I cut them up for firewood. But it had flat track pads and would not climb the hill very well. I got it stuck up to the belly pan once. Fortunately, another neighbor had his bulldozer nearby and pulled me out. My brother-in-law borrowed it to do some back-filling and landscaping at his house. It worked fine for him. 

The next winter I was ready for the snow to fall. When it was time to push the drifts, it wouldn’t start. The battery was shot. I salvaged two big batteries from the National Guard and hooked them together to get it started. 

The hydraulic control unit broke internally. Of course the part was no longer in production forcing me to make one from off-the-shelf parts. It only cost $550.  

The fuel pump failed. I managed to get it repaired just in time to finish the winter without using my work-saving bulldozer.

The spring of 1980 arrived and I needed my now, I thought, running dozer to do some landscaping work. When I tried to start the engine the starter seized. I purchased and installed a rebuilt starter for $300.  

When I was hauling logs a hydraulic cylinder failed. I had to get it repaired at a machine shop. Luck was with me. An hour after I got it back home the repair shop exploded and burned to the ground. Another $200 spent.

Finally I realized I had purchased a financial sinkhole. I had about $5,000 into my Deere bulldozer. After replacing a bearing on a track idler I figured that maybe enough was enough. I never was able to use it to plow snow and it didn’t run most of the time.

I advertised it for $11,500. I was willing, in desperation, to take anything. Several potential buyers looked at it. They snorted their contempt and drove off without making an offer. I began to get discouraged.

After about two weeks a man from Trapper Creek called. He said it would be perfect for his one-man gold mining operation. He offered to buy it over the phone, sight unseen. I couldn’t believe my ears. I suggested he look at it before purchasing. He agreed and two hours later he arrived at the house.

It was love at first sight. My Deere was exactly what he was looking for and he absolutely had to have it. He had four brothers who all owned bulldozers. He did “manage” to talk me down to $10,200.  

In May of 1981, he came with a truck to haul it away. It started perfectly and drove up onto the truck bed with no problem. Everything worked. He drove away and I never saw my Deere again. I met the man in a grocery store several months later. He told me it was running great and he was as happy as he could be. That made two happy people. Well ... three if you count my long-suffering wife. I used the proceeds from the sale to buy a new Ford tractor with a snow blade that served me well for years after. (See the story A Neighborly Christmas in LFM’s December 2015 issue.) I used the remaining money to finish my wife’s sewing room as a small token of appreciation for putting up with my dream project. 

In spite of the aggravation and misery, in the end all turned out well. Whew! I doubled my money and learned a valuable lesson about used equipment. I also found people are very willing to help with advice. It seems everyone is an expert, even if they never owned a bulldozer.

If you ever buy a used, broken down bulldozer give me a call. I can give you plenty of advice; but I charge what it’s worth. 

No items found.

A Real Alaskan Deere

A Real Alaskan Deere

Life in Alaska

Author

Roger Lincoln

Roger Lincoln arrived in Wasilla in 1950. His parents homesteaded the property where Snowshoe Elementary School is now located off Fairview Loop Road. He graduated from Wasilla High School in 1965 and witnessed firsthand the area’s significant growth and change. After retiring from the Matanuska Susitna Borough School District as a computer/electronics technician, he and his wife, Nancy, relocated to Utah. He has a passion for preserving history and currently volunteers as a historical re-enactor at a living history site in Wellsville, Utah. Despite no longer physically living here, in his heart he considers Alaska home.

Every man needs a money pit

One potential sign of a true Alaskan is the ability to brag about having owned at least one bulldozer. Many Alaskan men have possessed one of these macho beauties, or want to, and some even keep old dead bulldozer hulks around their yards as trophies of past glories. Stuffed moose heads and bearskin rugs inside and bulldozers outside. I am proud to say that I am a true Alaskan man.

The winters of 1977 and 1978 provided heavy snowfalls and high winds. We were drifted in often. I had to use a shovel several times to manually clear drifts to be able to get out to the main road and into Wasilla. Sometimes my neighbor and I worked together to open the road. It was a job. Finally I had enough. I decided the answer to my problem was the traditional Alaska solution ... buy a bulldozer.

Hangar facilities and vehicles in winter.


It was not easy finding a bulldozer within the right price range. I let it be known I was looking and after a while a guy I worked with told me he knew where a 1956 Model 440 was located. I don’t want to name and possibly embarrass the manufacturer, but it did quickly become Deere to my heart. It was equipped with a front end loader and powered by a 2 cylinder GM diesel engine. It looked like just the machine I needed. The price was right too—$2,500 and delivery from Anchorage was included. A church brother who was an expert equipment operator looked at it with me. He pronounced it a good deal. I knew it would take a little work to get it in perfect shape, but I felt up to the job. This should have been my first clue that trouble was ahead.

At last the big day came. My bulldozer arrived. With a little help it wheezed off the truck and down the ramp to the ground. It didn’t look as good as I remembered. About two hours later I received a call from a church friend of mine who worked at the Anchorage Police Department. He knew I was trying to find a bulldozer. By coincidence he was investigating a complaint about a stolen bulldozer at the very moment we were off loading my new prize. On the remote chance that I may have purchased the missing bulldozer, he called me. When I answered, “Yes, it was just delivered” he asked me the serial number. It matched. My Deere was stolen!

The next step was to get my money back from my work “buddy” who sold it to me. He had bought it from a person who skipped the country after stealing the bulldozer. Then I talked to the man who was the rightful owner. It turned out that he wanted to sell it anyway so I gave him the money and got a bill of sale. The bulldozer was now mine. Legally!

It leaked a little diesel around the injectors. When I started the engine, clouds of black smoke rolled over to my good neighbor Bob’s house across the road. No big deal. Another friend and church brother, a professional diesel mechanic, checked it out for me and told me the cylinder head was cracked down the middle. It was a wonder it even started at all he said.  

I took the cylinder head to Anchorage for repair. The mechanics were amazed that the valves didn’t fall down into the cylinders. They showed it to a company representative from Detroit Diesel who took some of the parts back to GM as a souvenir. Finally I got the engine back together for only $400.

Now I was ready to do some work, but it wasn’t steering right. Another church brother helped me put new steering clutches in it. (Aren’t church brothers great?) That cost only about $200. The undercarriage was broken. Wes, another understanding neighbor, welded it for me. In return, he used the loader to do some back-filling around a house he was building. It worked perfectly for him.

Again I was ready to do something with my bulldozer. I started getting rid of some of the brush piles that were causing the snow to drift. The hydraulic hoses blew. I replaced all the hydraulic hoses. That took a few hundred dollars. Then the radiator developed a leak. I repaired that. By now I was losing my enthusiasm. Two church brothers and former owners of similar machines encouraged me. There really isn’t anything else that can go wrong they said. By now nearly everyone I knew was asking me about the machine. I got plenty of advice from amateur mechanics. Unfortunately none of them actually owned a bulldozer.


Hangar facilities at Anchorage.

Finally I was ready to finish pushing the brush piles. The loader quit working every few minutes. It turned out there was a hidden filter in the hydraulic system that was plugged. I cleaned it out. Now it worked and I was able to complete the job.

I used the bulldozer to go down a slope into the woods and pull the logs up to the yard where I cut them up for firewood. But it had flat track pads and would not climb the hill very well. I got it stuck up to the belly pan once. Fortunately, another neighbor had his bulldozer nearby and pulled me out. My brother-in-law borrowed it to do some back-filling and landscaping at his house. It worked fine for him. 

The next winter I was ready for the snow to fall. When it was time to push the drifts, it wouldn’t start. The battery was shot. I salvaged two big batteries from the National Guard and hooked them together to get it started. 

The hydraulic control unit broke internally. Of course the part was no longer in production forcing me to make one from off-the-shelf parts. It only cost $550.  

The fuel pump failed. I managed to get it repaired just in time to finish the winter without using my work-saving bulldozer.

The spring of 1980 arrived and I needed my now, I thought, running dozer to do some landscaping work. When I tried to start the engine the starter seized. I purchased and installed a rebuilt starter for $300.  

When I was hauling logs a hydraulic cylinder failed. I had to get it repaired at a machine shop. Luck was with me. An hour after I got it back home the repair shop exploded and burned to the ground. Another $200 spent.

Finally I realized I had purchased a financial sinkhole. I had about $5,000 into my Deere bulldozer. After replacing a bearing on a track idler I figured that maybe enough was enough. I never was able to use it to plow snow and it didn’t run most of the time.

I advertised it for $11,500. I was willing, in desperation, to take anything. Several potential buyers looked at it. They snorted their contempt and drove off without making an offer. I began to get discouraged.

After about two weeks a man from Trapper Creek called. He said it would be perfect for his one-man gold mining operation. He offered to buy it over the phone, sight unseen. I couldn’t believe my ears. I suggested he look at it before purchasing. He agreed and two hours later he arrived at the house.

It was love at first sight. My Deere was exactly what he was looking for and he absolutely had to have it. He had four brothers who all owned bulldozers. He did “manage” to talk me down to $10,200.  

In May of 1981, he came with a truck to haul it away. It started perfectly and drove up onto the truck bed with no problem. Everything worked. He drove away and I never saw my Deere again. I met the man in a grocery store several months later. He told me it was running great and he was as happy as he could be. That made two happy people. Well ... three if you count my long-suffering wife. I used the proceeds from the sale to buy a new Ford tractor with a snow blade that served me well for years after. (See the story A Neighborly Christmas in LFM’s December 2015 issue.) I used the remaining money to finish my wife’s sewing room as a small token of appreciation for putting up with my dream project. 

In spite of the aggravation and misery, in the end all turned out well. Whew! I doubled my money and learned a valuable lesson about used equipment. I also found people are very willing to help with advice. It seems everyone is an expert, even if they never owned a bulldozer.

If you ever buy a used, broken down bulldozer give me a call. I can give you plenty of advice; but I charge what it’s worth. 

No items found.

Author

Roger Lincoln

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